Immune boosting foods

Is your immune system ready for winter?

Refined sugar is a big player in downregulating our immune system. When a pathogen (virus, bacteria or the like) enters the blood stream white blood cells help fight off the microbes. The white blood cells make chemicals or “reactive oxygen species” that help to break down the cell membrane of these microbes.  These reactive oxygen species also have the potential to damage the white blood cells themselves. When we have high levels of vitamin C in our body the white blood cells create an antioxidant wall of vitamin C around themselves to protect the integrity of their cellular wall. Refined sugar competes with Vitamin C uptake within the cell for up to 5 hrs after a meal. This leaves the cells vulnerable not only to the damage done by the microbes but also to the free radicals released to help kill the microbes. For some people this can mean they are going nearly a full 24hrs with reduced protection no matter how much Vitamin C they are taking.

What does a refined sugar mean?

A refined sugar is all foods that go through a process that leaves it with just the sugar. Eg.

  • Cane sugar, both raw and bleached
  • Coconut sugar
  • Rapadura
  • Honey
  • Molasses
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Fruit juices
  • Cordial
  • Maple syrup

Refined sugar also affects the growth of the microbes in the gut. Certain commensal (don’t cause problems when balanced by good bacteria but when their levels increase are pathogenic or cause symptoms) microbes like yeast thrive on refined sugar and can create an imbalance in our gut flora. Probiotics (health promoting bacteria in our gut that are quite vulnerable to stress) can be fighting a loosing battle for floor space if we aren’t feeding them the food that they thrive on, primarily fiber and can get to substantially low levels. These probiotics help us in our immunity and when we have insufficient levels of either or both strains it can set us up for immune dysregulation, always getting sick and triggering our genetic predisposition to autoimmune conditions.

Add to this when we actually do get sick and have to take antibiotics they kill bacteria not yeast. Think about your gut as like our earth. Microbes are constantly competing for floor space where they can all get along peacefully on their patch of land. Sometimes wars break out to get more land and if a population is stressed/killed off the neighbouring colony will move into that land and spread. When we have antibiotics it kills off the bacterial colonies allowing for more “terrain” for the yeasts to grow into this is why you want to be taking a probiotic with and after your antibiotics. 

How much sugar should we be getting a day?

For the average adult we are looking at about 25g a day of sugar from whole foods in the form of fruits and vegetables. When we start adding refined sugar and syrups to tea and coffee, snacking on commercially produced foods we can very easily tip the scales and get into the 100 – 200g mark. 100g of sugar down regulates the efficiency of the immune system by up to 40% in studies. Not only does this affect out immune health but it also sets us up for insulin resistance, diabetes and heart disease.

Some examples of what 25g of sugar looks like:

  • One cup of orange juice  
  • 5 tsp of honey 
  • 1 muffin
  • 1/2 fruit salad cup or 1 cup of fresh fruit salad
  • 5 cough lollies
  • 1 cup of lemonade
  • 2 - 3 icy poles

It doesn't take too much to accidentally disable your immune system with sugar when you aren't sick let alone when you are sick or already run down. And you can do it by making choices that you think are healthy and are helping your immune system. 

So how can we boost our immune system?

Vitamin c

Obviously Vitamin C is a necessity. It is hard to get the high dose you are looking for without the sugar hit so I recommend going to your health food store and getting it in supplement form. You are looking for 1g per tablet. If you can get it with zinc, bonus! You want to be taking 3 - 4g a day minimum when sick. If you start to notice your stools getting loose back off a gram and that is your acute treatment (when you are sick dose).


Zinc is another essential mineral for immune health quickly depleted when we are sick and run down and hard to recover from our food alone. When supplementing with zinc look for the picolinate, amino acid chelate or orotate. You want 24mg of zinc. 

Naturopath tip: If you are also on the contraceptive pill it will deplete your zinc levels. 

chicken broth/soup

Chicken broth is a beautiful traditional recipe for supporting immune health. The benefits come from slow cooking the carcass and the vegetables so that the amino acids, vitamins and minerals leach from the carcass and vegetables into the soup. It's kind of like predigesting the food, breaking down the nutrients into an easy absorb form because they are now in the water, perfect for when our body is already taxed trying to fight the bugs. Add is some nice warming spices like turmeric, ginger, cracked pepper and cayenne. 

Fresh ginger juice tea

Ginger is useful for treating the flu but only when the fresh root is used. Do not use dried ginger. At the first sign of infection add 5g of sliced ginger, quarter of a lime squeezed, 1/8 tsp of cayenne and 1 tsp of raw, local honey to a mug of hot water. Sip throughout the day. This recipe can get on top of a mild virus when used at the first sign of symptoms like a sore throat and aches and pains. It helps to thin the mucous and slow the spread of the virus in the body and protecting mucous membranes from damage. It can also help to lower a fever during infection. 

Get adequate sleep and down time

 A stressed, tired, run down body is a compromised immune system. Make sure you are getting 7 - 8 hrs of quality sleep a night and spending time each week with friends and family. Go that step further and spend that time playing in the sun to get some gentle movement and vitamin D.

Prevention is better than cure

Avoiding bugs during winter can be a near impossible task and for some of us our bodies way of telling us ok time for rest! If you need additional support this winter, book in to see how therapeutic grade herbs can bolster your immune resilience and how to best nourish your body. 

***Disclaimer: This information is intended for education purposes only. The information is not designed to cure or treat any disease. If you are taking any medication or have allergies it is recommended you consult with your practitioner. This article is not designed to replace the advice of a licensed practitioner. The reader should consult with their practitioner regarding serious illnesses. For more information please email